I have the world's worst birthdays.
This is not hyperbole thrown out to gain sympathy or win some sad game in which one earns credit for being the most pathetic. It's merely a point of fact. It's not even a coincidence at this point, or the by-product of self-fulfilling prophecy. It seriously does not matter what I do—I can leave town, I can wear lucky charms . . . hell, I can eat Lucky Charms, and it has no effect. One birthday I locked myself in a room with a stack of DVDs and enough food to last the day. When I finally turned the phones back on, I got a call saying that the appeal my wife and I had filed on a five-year lawsuit regarding the property line of our house had been lost, thus flushing away nearly forty-five thousand dollars we'd spent trying to get the original owners to admit they'd lied to us.
The birthday curse finds me no matter where I go or what I do. But it produces some pretty insane stories. Now, there hasn't been a birthday in my life that wasn't rife with some sort of insane something-or-other, but there are five that really jump out and beg to be talked about, mostly because all of them took place in the same location: the emergency room.
It was my twenty-fourth birthday. I looked up in time to see the clock tick through the three seconds it needed to officially be two o'clock in the morning. It was a chore to even breathe, and the antiseptic smell of the hospital burned my nostrils with each breath. I pondered the concept that after nearly four hours of exposure, one would expect the nostrils and lungs to be adjusted to the burn and odor of the iodine in the air. I concluded that if one assumed this, one was clearly very, very wrong. With that realization, I exhaled a deep sigh.
It wasn't a sigh of resignation, which I'd sighed around one o'clock that morning. And it wasn't a sigh of frustration, which I'd sighed at midnight. No, this was simply one of those meaningless sighs you exhale to pass the time: a mental marker that the moment has come and gone when what little hope that you might ever see a doctor has at last expired.
Mike looked over and half smirked, half frowned at me, indicating that he, too, had just experienced the mourning of an unanswered prayer. I shrugged in response and shifted my weight slightly, allowing the chair to numb a different buttock for a while. As I did, a pair of young, hyperenergetic children raced past where we sat, slightly jostling my left elbow.
I winced in response to the jolt that shot through my left hand and tore through my body. I gritted my teeth to keep from yelping like a hobbled puppy. I gripped my left wrist tightly in an effort to keep the pounding in my veins from reaching the spot in the meaty part of my left hand where approximately two thirds of an X-Acto knife blade rested in its impromptu home. The white gauze pad lightly taped across the entry wound began to grow red as the overworked platelets at the wound site said, fuck it, shrugged, and gave up working to keep the damn cut from bleeding all over the place.
Mike noticed my reaction and was about to offer both his concern for my well-being and any services he could perform to help me in the situation, but just as he opened his mouth, an ambulance's siren began blaring outside the window where we sat. Mike's orange-marker-covered face immediately squinted tight as he cupped his ears with his orange-marker-covered hands. Instinctively, I raised my black-marker-covered hands to do the same, but as soon as I lifted my black-marker-and-blood-covered hand, another jolt of pain shot through my arm.
I winced. Without even thinking about it, I replaced the right hand that had gone to protect my right ear back on my left wrist, which clearly needed the aid more than my poor eardrums. The ambulance sped away, taking its blaring siren with it, which was good. As it got out of earshot, a small baby who had fallen asleep on his redneck mother's oversize breast awoke and decided to take up the ambulance's challenge on who could blow out the most eardrums. He let loose with both barrels.
I'd thought that my eyes were already shut as tightly as they could be, but somehow I was able to squeeze out a tiny bit more light. Another sigh escaped my lungs so quickly, I couldn't determine what kind of sigh it was. The throbbing in my hand made its way up my arm and into my brain as my head began pounding with the warning signs of an oncoming migraine.
I opened my eyes to find one of the small children who'd run past earlier standing beside my chair and looking over my outstretched left palm. "Ew!" she screamed as she looked up at me. I looked at her without a word. She ran away.
The television began playing the unmistakable overprocessed jangling guitar notes that foretold the introduction of yet another Mexican soap opera. A door to my right opened, and the sound of a freshly flushed toilet could be heard beyond its threshold. Short bursts of vulgarity began ringing through the windows, then very loudly through the waiting room, as two police officers half escorted, half carried in an incredibly argumentative drunk man who was bleeding from the forehead. Without a single word, the officers walked him past the waiting room and down to the welcoming arms of the auxiliary police precinct inside the hospital, as their brothers in blue had done for the previous four individuals who'd found themselves in similar situations that evening.
The baby kept yelling.
Another ambulance pulled up to the dock, sirens blaring and engine roaring. The clack of a stretcher slamming against the double doors at the reception area echoed through the waiting room. The children running rampant began yelling for their parents to look at the damaged and bloodied person wheeling at high speed through the hallways leading to where I longed to be. I couldn't help thinking that, even though his wounds were far graver than my own, he was the lucky one.
This was all my fault.
Mike had been trying to make this the first birthday in many years that was actually fun. I'd been hiding out all day, and just when it looked like the day might pass with no altercations or injury, he took up his black marker. In all fairness, I really should have been paying attention to where I was putting my hand when I began stumbling backward. My Sharpie hand was poised for a strike; all I needed was a quick push from my free hand to stop my backward momentum and mount a suitable riposte. I didn't realize that, while screwing around in a fit of boredom, I'd left an uncapped X-Acto knife sitting base-down in a lump of sculpting clay.
I closed my eyes once again and let my head drop back in utter defeat. I rolled my face to the right and opened my eyes to find Mike looking at me with a mixture of pity and agony. He looked at the floor, sighed, and then looked over at me.
"Dude . . . I'm really—" he began.
"I know, man. I know," I said with yet another sigh, this one carrying with it the weight of my twenty-three previous birthdays. We both returned our gaze to the floor and resumed waiting.